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Must Watch: The Complete And Emotionally Fraught Story Of Mark Mathews
Including Mark's secret tip for committing to the wave of the day.
A few years back, we interviewed Mark Mathews about his catastrophic leg injury, which left him with a permanent limp (among other, more serious ailments).
In Red Bull's Los Angeles HQ, Mark performed a strict rehabilitation regimen while we peppered him with questions.
Are you expecting to get back to 100 percent? Would you consider big wave surfing an addiction? Have you considered embracing the drag? Etc.
Three years on, Mark is able to surf again (on two feet!), albeit at 60-70% of his previous capacity.
You might imagine this would narrow Mark's career outlook, or at the very least cause a deep sadness within him. While the Australian did suffer sponsor-loss and depression throughout his recovery, we learn in Red Bull's new documentary, The Other Side of Fear, that Mark's come out of the tragedy more opportunistic than ever.
It's a classic redemption story, sure, but the film still left us with a tear-duct-specific allergy flare-up. Watch the film here, and learn more about the real Mark Mathews from his close friend and Stab founder, Sam McIntosh, below.
Mark, three years ago in the Red Bull rehab facility.
Michael Ciaramella: Who is Mark to you?
Sam McIntosh: The thing about Mark is, he’s not the best surfer. Doesn’t have the best style. Was never the darling. He was never really the best at anything, but his mindset, his optimism, and his work ethic made him become one of the best big-wave surfers in the world.
I’ve always been drawn to workers—those with endurance, who are self-motivated, never blaming others over adversity. No one encapsulates that more than Mark Mathews.
From an ideological standpoint, I am almost diametrically opposed to Mark in just about every way: creatively, politically, culturally, and in business—yet his openness to new things and new approaches is telling of his character. It’s no mistake that he now makes as much money doing corporate motivational gigs as he did at the peak of his pro surfing career.
And more selfishly, because of Mark, I have ridden better waves than anyone of my skillset should have ever piloted. From Cloudbreak to Shipsterns to Cape Solander in Sydney, there are sessions and trips I’d have no business being a part of if it weren't for him. But Mark has this almost methodical approach of making you comfortable in waves outside your ability.
What's the scariest moment you've shared with Mark? How did he make you feel more comfortable?
We travelled heavily for almost a decade, focusing on last-minute to swells all within one-flight striking distance from Sydney. We’d do day-and-a-half trips to Fiji, one-day trips to Shipsterns, day trips to Bells. His ethos was to always say 'yes'.
Scary moments? There truly are too many to remember. The most powerful thing Mark teaches, however, is a technique for when the wave of the day approaches. You have to fight every urge to paddle out with the pack and instead remain seated on the ledge. The technique Mark employs is sitting on your board, looking up with your eyeballs but not your head, and breathing through your nose to remain calm.
I've no idea why it works, but it does.
Mark put himself through this agony every day throughout his recovery.
How did Mark end up as the photog for Taj's wave at the right?
As part of a Stab project, we wanted to shoot a surfer from behind both at Teahupoo and The Right. Mark was meant to be the talent. The inventor of this technique was Laurent Pujol, and he didn’t feel comfortable at these breaks and declined to be involved. In line with his character, Mark suggested that instead of being the subject, he could hold the camera.
Mark borrowed a camera from Bill Morris, got a lesson in shooting auto, and found himself in the spot behind Taj. The moment was extraordinary, the imagery captured was some of the shittiest you’ve ever seen.
Best non-surfing story of Mark?
You look closely at Mark’s face and you’ll see significant scarring. He was glassed across the face at a bar in Sydney late one night. After an upbringing in Maroubra being around violence, Mark will do anything to avoid a fight. When they found the guy who glassed him, Mark could have reported him and gotten the guy serious charges, likely jail time. But Mark refused to name the guy because he was afraid his friends would go after him, get charged themselves, and then impact their own lives. "I’m not into holding grudges," he’d say.
As a friend, do you want to see Mark keep surfing big waves?
Not competitively, at least. You see him on the other side of these trips we’d do and it was like his adrenal glands had been depleted. Even though it was surfing, it was still work. When you see a bodyboarder towing into a 15-foot wave at Shipsterns and the rest of us are paddling away from this black wall, you see Mark spin and take off behind them. It’s truly nuts. And he needed to do that to stay relevant, but it takes a toll. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the next stage of life and on the shoulder a little more.